I watched *The Extinctionist* online on June 1, 2021. It was a film of a live concert performance from PS21 in Chatham, NY on May 29 and 30, dropped online on May 30. It’s a new one-act opera with music by Daniel Schosberg and a libretto by Amanda Quaid, based on her play.
The opera opened with four percussionists playing mallet-based instruments (I assume they were some combination of xylophones, marimbas, and vibraphones). It sounded like water dripping, perfect for the show, which is about a young couple trying to have a baby in the midst of an international crisis - - the ice caps are melting and Brooklyn will soon be underwater. This dripping business went on a little too long, for my taste. It didn’t hold my attention, it ain’t Steve Reich.
I’ll quote from the synopsis on the website: “The Woman wonders: What if the only way to protect her future daughter was to not have her? What if she could save the planet from unspeakable future destruction by sterilizing herself…by becoming the very first ‘Extinctionist’? In this dark comedy, a Woman’s body becomes the battlefield of our political anguish, conflicting desires, and individual responsibility.”
Two women came onstage and two of the percussionists moved over to their home instruments: one playing the violin, another the piano (a third ended up playing the electric guitar). We heard a pre-recorded speaking voice, a woman leading a meditation. The two women spoke to each other about the meditation, what their experiences had been. The transition from speaking to singing was a little clunky and the writing for the women was a little shrill.
The next scene, for the central couple, had a few welcome changes in mood and texture. I had seen soprano Kelly Griffin in two previous Heartbeat Opera productions and she’s a thrilling singer. Best of all for this project, she sings with conviction. I feel like I’m saying this a lot lately when it comes to new music, but she sang it like it was better than it was. Which is a great talent for someone performing new music. Or even old music - - I imagine Telemann could sometimes use this same treatment!
A later scene between the two women had lots of drive and impact, though I could never (and I mean NEVER) understand the words. This is not the fault of the singers, is the fault of the composer and librettist. There was an electric guitar solo later that was kinda cool but again, went on too long. I think these instrumental interludes would make more sense in a fully staged performance.
The central couple had a tender scene together, that was a highlight of the score. Baritone Benjamin Dickerson did some lovely singing in this scene and the transition from tenderness to anger was handled very well in the music.
These performances were billed as a workshop production for a fully staged production planned for next year. I think I'll skip it.